Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Towle Family Correspondence, 1850-1895
Finding aid created by Bethany Anderson, January 2008
Title: Towle family correspondence Creator: Towle family Inclusive dates: 1850-1895 Extent: 127 items Abstract:
The Towle family correspondence is comprised of letters written by Electa Towle of Avon, Maine to her husband Daniel while he was mining in California, and later to her daughter Clarinda when Electa was living away from her.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
1992, 1996, 2002. M-2888.12, M-3228.3, M-4228.4.
Copyright status is unknown.
Towle Family Correspondence, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Electa M. Higgins Towle (1810-1900), a native of Turner, Maine, and Daniel Towle (1810- 1874) of Avon, Maine, married in 1833. The couple lived in Avon, where they operated a farm and raised their three children: Clarinda (1835-1901), Daniel Higgins (1841-1918), and Emma (1849-1851). A farmer and postmaster by trade, Daniel left for Sacramento, California, in early 1850 to find work during the "Gold Rush." Electa remained at home during his absence, caring for their children, managing the farm, and consequently taking on many of her husband's roles.
Daniel had several different jobs during his time in California. Initially, he mined at "Sagar's Bar" on the North Yuba River. By January 1, 1851, Daniel had relocated to a site on the Feather River, 120 miles from Marysville, California, where he was involved in dam building. In addition to these enterprises, Daniel also managed a shop. In 1852 he sold his interest in the shop in order to invest in the Spring Valley Quartz Mining Company (January 25, 1852). Daniel's brother George W. Towle (b. 1823) also traveled to California to seek his fortune, and another brother, Benjamin F. Towle (b. 1831), contemplated following his brothers to California.
During his absence, the family underwent many changes and endured several obstacles, which Electa nevertheless handled effectively. On January 21, 1851, daughter Emma died from scarlet fever, a loss which proved to be very difficult for Electa. In addition, Electa withstood the vicious gossip of her neighbors during the long periods of not hearing from Daniel, as well as her own anxieties about his safety and return. Her most prevalent concern, however, was paying their debts, something she hoped she could do with Daniel's earnings in California.
After Daniel returned to Avon c. 1853, their surviving daughter Clarinda married Edward K. Hitchcock (1817-1900) of Strong, Maine. The couple subsequently had a son named Alfred (b. 1859).
Shortly after Daniel's death on August 4, 1874, Electa moved to Red Wing, Minnesota where her son Daniel H. had settled with his wife Amanda (1844-1882) and their four children: Emma (1868-1944), Lena (1872-1952), Gertrude (b. 1878) and Merton (b. 1878). Clarinda remained in Strong with her husband and son while she and her mother exchanged letters for several decades. During her time in Minnesota, Electa wrote about her grandchildren, the death of Amanda, her son's remarriage to a woman named Mary (b. 1855), and the birth of a fifth grandchild named Neal (b. 1891). In addition, she discusses her son's farming business, for which he sold farm equipment and supplies from "Van Brunt, Barber & Co." Although she often considered returning to Maine one day, Electa remained in Minnesota until her death in 1900.
Collection Scope and Content Note
Electa wrote most of the letters (105 out of 127), 34 of which she wrote between 1850 and 1853, and 71 between 1874 and 1895. Other members of the family wrote the rest of the letters -- her son Daniel Higgins, his wife Amanda, his second wife Mary, her daughter Clarinda, and several of Electa's grandchildren. Many letters also contain entries by Electa and her children or grandchildren.
The collection can be divided into two parts chronologically and thematically. Those which date from July 24, 1850, to February 13, 1853, were written by Electa from Avon, Maine, to Daniel in California. The letters that date from August 11, 1872 to July 21, 1895 were written primarily by Electa to Clarinda, while the former lived in Red Wing, Minnesota, with her son Daniel and his family, and the latter in Strong, Maine. The two sets of letters illustrate two distinct phases in Electa's life. From 1850 to 1853, she had a very active role as the sole manager of both her household and the farm. She was also the Postmistress for Avon, a position Daniel had held before leaving for California. Their financial situation was her main concern, but she also wrote her husband about the management of the farm, and about their children's health and activities. Concerned about their many debts, she frequently requested money, giving details of her purchases and the sale of livestock and agricultural products from their farm: "I can get along if they do not call upon me for debts...how I wish you could send me a $1000 to pay all we are a owing" (January 1, 1851). Fortunately Electa was able to procure an income for herself, as she did not receive money from Daniel on a regular basis.
The letters from 1874 to 1895 reveal a more passive side of Electa, as her responsibilities were few, especially as she got older and more fragile. Nevertheless, she managed to provide Clarinda with detailed updates on Daniel's farming business and the activities of the family and neighbors. She took great care to describe her new home and the town of Red Wing, as well as her disapproval for her son and daughter-in-law's lax and indulgent parenting style. To a lesser degree, she also described her own activities, which mainly entailed looking after her grandchildren, sewing, and making dresses. Indeed, sewing, knitting, and dressmaking were activities that consumed much of the time of many women in the family. Several letters to Clarinda were accompanied by fabric samples of the material that they had used to make dresses. Electa also mentioned a considerable number of young female relatives and friends who had learned the dressmaking trade and found jobs in shops.
The Towle family was comprised of many hardworking men and women, who, whether seeking fortune in California, establishing themselves in new territories, or maintaining family order and business during difficult times, always managed to preserve family bonds. Their letters are filled with concern and affection, as exemplified by Electa's dedication to communicate with those who were far away but close in heart.
Gold mines and mining--California.
Hitchcock, Clarinda Towle, 1835-1901.
Towle, Amanda Ellsworth, 1844-1882.
Towle, Daniel Higgins, 1841-1918.
Towle, Electa M. Higgins, 1810-1900.
Towle, Mary A. Crandall b.c. 1855.
Container / Location
Towle family correspondence, July 24, 1850-July 21, 1895 [series]
July 24, 1850-October 6, 1850
November 16, 1850-December 16, 1850
January 1, 1851-March 23, 1851
April 6, 1851-June 22, 1851
July 24, 1851-October 19, 1851
November 16, 1851-November 30, 1851
December 7, 1851-December 28, 1851
January 6, 1852-March 24, 1852
April 6, 1852-July 1, 1852
August 21, 1852-September 12, 1852
October 10, 1852-November 28, 1852
December 14, 1852-December 29, 1852
January 30, 1853-February 13, 1853, and August 11, 1872
July 21, 1874-December 30, 1875
January 21, 1876-June 25, 1876
July 3, 1876-November 6, 1876
January 1, 1877-November 4, 1878
May 30, 1880-September 27, 1881
October 16, 1882-1884
September 14, 1885-April 18, 1886
February 7, 1887-November 25, 1888
March 4, 1889-November 6, 1891
April 3, 1892-December 27, 1894
February 2, 1895-July 21, 1895
Additional Descriptive Data
Realia and Graphic materials within the collection
14 fabric samples – July 25, 1876 (1 sample); September 3, 1876 (1 sample); April 5, 1877 (1 sample); May 2, 1877 (1 sample); August 21, 1881 (1 sample); December 6, 1883 (1 sample); August 1, 1888 (3 samples); November 6, 1891 (1 sample); July 18, 1894 (4 samples).
Decorative insect designs printed at the top of the paper (March 11, 1888); A doodle of a lambrequin by Emma E. Towle (Jan. 15, 1886).
Letterheads: 1. "Agency of Goodhue County of the Patrons of Husbandry D.H. Towle, Agent" (e.g. July 21, 1874); 2. "D.H. Towle Dealer in Van Brunt, Barber &Co.'s Force Feed Seeder and Cultivator, Sulky Rakes, Plows, and Cultivators" (e.g. January 24, 1877); 3. "Red Wing Collegiate Institute" (e.g. October 8, 1891).
American River, California
Brooklyn, New York
Eau Claire, Minnesota
Feather River, California
Goodhue County, Minnesota
Goshen, New York
Grass Valley, California
Lake City, Minnesota
Minnehaha Falls, Minnesota
Mount Vernon Village, Maine
Napa City, California
New Portland, Maine
New Vineyard, Maine
New York City, New York
Saint Anthony Falls, Minnesota
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Paul, Minnesota
San Francisco, California
Yuba River, California
The William L. Clements Library has two other collections which contain letters of the Towles' relatives. The most important of these is the Edward K. Hitchcock Family papers, which contain the letters of Daniel and Electa's son-in-law. The majority of the letters in this collection, however, were written before Edward married Clarinda. The other collection is Nathan D. Stanwood papers. Nathan Stanwood was related to Daniel and Electa through their son-in-law, having married Edward's maternal cousin, Martha Jane Delano. The Stanwood Papers contain a single letter written by Daniel Towle in Sacramento to his wife Electa and his daughter Clarinda (January 25 and March 4, 1852). The letter was written when Daniel was making plans to invest in the Spring Valley Quartz Mining Company and he described the organization and development of the company.